In recent days, at least two legislators have resigned their seats during the hearing of petitions challenging their eligibility to be members of parliament. However, in both cases, the resignations came after the court hearing their case asked their lawyers what course of action their clients (i.e., the legislators) wanted to pursue prior to the delivery of the judgment. In both instances, the legislators decided to resign rather than wait for the verdict — and by-elections are to be held on the vacated seats.
The question that arises out of these resignations is: why did the honourable court give the MPAs a get-out-of-courtfree card? Some might argue that resigning from an assembly seat is not exactly getting away scot-free. But when compared to the alternative – a verdict which would have found the MPA guilty of obtaining a fake degree and of deceiving the public – to be given the choice to resign does seem tame. The judiciary has become a force to reckon with in the past few years, taking the government head-on over the Steel Mills, the New Murree project (which was patronised by the Pervez Elahi Punjab government) as well as the reopening of NAB cases. The courts have taken suo motu notice of things from rapes and murders to kite-flying and illegal construction of buildings.
Why cannot similar action be taken against the umpteen members of (both the federal and provincial) parliament who were elected to public office after obtaining a fake degree? We would like to point out that the degree requirement is no longer in place. In fact, it can be argued that it was discriminatory to begin with, not least because such a condition in a country with one of the world's lowest literacy rates would automatically render ineligible a major chunk of the adult population from holding public office. However, the issue under debate is a different one — and relates to the integrity and conduct of those elected to parliament.
If they are going to use fraud to reach public office, how can they be expected to be honest with the people who elected them? And it is in this context that we are addressing the issue of punishment. The punishment should fit the 'crime', so to speak. Asking the culprit what he would prefer to do, before the verdict is delivered, is basically akin to giving the perpetrator the choice to take the easy way out. Clearly, resignation alone is better than being disqualified and then fined and/or sentenced to jail.
The issue is that why should MPs, or members of any other institution for that matter, be given exceptions -- surely an ordinary Pakistani will not be given any at all. Obtaining a fake degree to get elected is tantamount to playing with the trust reposed by the electorate. In fact, apart from deception it also involves theft in that the individual who obtains a degree through fraudulent means is claiming to possess something that he is not entitled to under the law. When he makes it to parliament, he gets a hefty salary, allowances and government grants, and the patronage that goes with being an MP. All of this is obtained deceitfully and it deprives another person – who would have perhaps been elected not through fraud – of availing these resources of the state.